Junior Wins i3 Challenge

College student’s wireless project snags prize

More than 30 groups competed in the first annual i3 “Elevator Pitch” competition, held this past Saturday at Fong Auditorium in Boylston Hall.

Nicholas J. Navarro ’10, MIT juniors Sean Liu and Cheuk Leung, and MIT management student Murali Govindaswamy won the first-place prize of $500 with their pitch of a new “wireless mesh technology” that would bring cheaper Internet access to the people of China. The technology that the team plans to establish in China was developed at MIT and has not yet been used in the Asian country.

“Internet access is the great equalizer, and China realizes that,” Navarro said after the winners were announced. “China is already investing billions to bring free Internet access to the Chinese people, and our system can reduce the costs by over 90 percent.”

The group, which has formally partnered with Fuzhou University in China, plans to put the prize money towards deploying the technology in China this spring.

According to Navarro, China currently pays $40 million for Internet access in each of its 30 largest cities, but with the new mesh technology, costs could be reduced to $3 million per city.

In a traditional wireless network, computers rely upon a single access point. In a mesh system, each computer can act as an access point.

“This reduction in costs would allow us to reach developing communities,” Navarro said.

The judging panel appeared to be pleased with the overall quality of the pitches.

“This competition was a great opportunity to test drive ideas in front of a live audience,” said Jeffrey A. Korn ’86, one of the three judges. “I thought that the winning pitch was deserving, although there were other great pitches, as well.”

The competition is named after an “elevator pitch” because competitors are required to present their ideas as if they had lucked upon a CEO in the company elevator.

The co-directors of the Harvard College Entrepreneurship Forum, who were the lead organizers for the competition, said they were pleased with the effort of the competitors.

“I was impressed with the diversity of pitches, the quality of the pitches, and the level of enthusiasm that the competitors had,” said David Kosslyn ’11, one of the co-directors of the Entrepreneurship Forum. “The back and forth between audience members and the competitors was great, as was the feedback from the judges for each participant.”

—Staff Writer Prateek Kumar can be reached at kumar@fas.harvard.edu.